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Forging uneasy peace between polar bears and one Arctic hamlet

Eilis QuinnEye on the Arctic,Radio CanadaEye on the Arctic
Young bear at Arviat, Nunavut, garbage dump. Hamlet of Arviat courtesy photo

For the first time on at least three years, the community of Arviat in Canada's eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut has had no polar bear defense kills.

The predominantly Inuit community of 2,800 people has long been plagued by the increasing number of rogue polar bears in the community.

No one is sure why the animals are coming into the community more than usual.

But sled dogs and property have been threatened, and locals are increasingly worried about the dangers the bears pose for people, especially children, in the community.

But the project, put in place by the World Wildlife Fund and the Hamlet of Arviat, called "The Human-Polar Bear Conflict Reduction Project," seems to be turning things around.

Geoff York, the head of Arctic Species Conservation at the World Wildlife Fund, says the lack of defense kills in the community is a sign the project is working well.

"It's important for human safety and for overall polar bear conservation," York said. "Any time we can reduce unnecessary, unintentional take of bears, that's a positive."

The conflict reduction project includes installing electric fences around the community's dog teams, providing steel containers for the dogs' food and hiring a polar bear monitor, local hunter and wildlife worker Leo Ikakhik, to push bears out of town at night.

Keith Collier, Arviat's Community Economic Development Officer, says the program has already made an impact on local residents.

"It adds a measure of security and comfort to people knowing there's someone they can call if they do see a bear close to their home," Collier said. "It increases people's confidence in letting their children (out) to play."

One year remains of the three-year project.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations. Listen to the complete report, and hear a feature interview with Arviat's polar bear monitor.